Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nicholas J. Lightner dies of injuries from I.E.D.

NEWPORT -- As a middle school football player, Nick Lightner set a goal of one day going to the state playoffs. Four years later, Lightner and his Toledo High School teammates reached that goal, taking their team all the way to the semi-finals.

The big offensive lineman was officially a football hero, but friends and family knew another side of the strong, quiet athlete, said former Toledo school counselor Sandy Blackwell.

"Nick was a caretaker," Blackwell said. "He was very nurturing and caring."

On Wednesday, the 29-year-old Army medic died of injuries he suffered a week ago while trying to care for others in Iraq, his family said Thursday.

Lightner, a sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas, was hurt March 15 when a land mine detonated near his unit in Baghdad, said his father, Bill Lightner.

Some soldiers died instantly and another was injured and died later in a hospital in Germany. Nick Lightner was transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for evaluation, Bill Lightner said. Family members were en route to visit him when he died.

Nick Lightner enlisted in the Army four years ago. He was deployed to Iraq last November. "He went for the right reasons," his father said. "After 9/11, he felt the need to do something and that's what he did."

He was the 93rd member of the military from Oregon or southwest Washington to die in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

People in Toledo, a community of 3,680, remember the young Lightner as someone who was always trying to do something, always trying to help someone.

When Lightner's close friend died in a car accident in their senior year, it was Lightner who looked out for his friend's young sister and supported the family as they grieved, Blackwell said.

"I'm not surprised he became a medic," she said. "It brought together the two sides of him: the big, strong football player who could do almost anything with the compassionate young man with the big, caring heart."

At Walter Reed, Nick Lightner learned he was the sole survivor of his team and spoke of his regret at not being able to save his fellow soldiers, said chaplain Geoff Bailey in a note to the family.

"He told me that he became a medic in order to help people and was frustrated that he was unable to do so after being injured," Bailey wrote.

Nick Lightner is survived by his father and stepmother, Bill and Sheri Lightner of Toledo; brothers Joshua and Nathan Lightner, both of Toledo; and three stepbrothers, Justin, Alex and Cory Lake.

They were not the only ones to consider him family, said Toledo Mayor Sharon Branstiter.

"Bill had to share his son with other families," Branstiter said, recalling Lightner's helpfulness and warm smile. "He was a good son to many people."

When he finished his time in the Army, Lightner planned to return home to work with his brothers in their construction company, to fish and hunt, camp and hike the outdoors he loved.

And he planned to marry his girlfriend, Ginger Warfield.

Warfield, 24, said Lightner called at least once a week and e-mailed her whenever he had the chance. "He always cared about everyone else before he cared about himself," she said.

"When he got out of the Army, we were going to live together and eventually get married and live happily ever after."

From the Oregonian